The Perfect Gift for Imperfect Mothers

by Joe McKeever

Counselors and pastors encounter it all the time: stressed-out mothers who feel they are not measuring up as good parents.  I'm certain fathers feel it too, but mothers are more likely to experience it on the deepest level.  That's why I was so glad to find the writings of John L. Cox, clinical psychologist from Jackson, Mississippi.

In an article in the monthly magazine Jackson Christian Family, John Cox discusses the stresses that drive so many mothers to try for perfection. One mother told him she had thrown in the towel and was no longer worrying about being a good mother.  "I've started a trust fund," she said, "to pay for my children's therapy to undo all the damage!"

Another told Dr. Cox she prays every night, "Lord, please don't let my children remember how I treated them today!"  One lady told Cox the pressure to excel in child-rearing was driving her so close to the edge she had taken up pottery-making. That way, when the family committed her to the state mental institution, she would already have her craft!

Early in the twentieth century, psychiatrist and pediatrician D. W. Winnicott began studying the lives of British families in an attempt to find the most effective form of parenting.  According to Cox, Winnicott discovered that children who are the product of perfect parents actually become misfits in life. The ideal parental affection and care which they receive as children leave them completely unprepared for real life!

In time, Winnicott focused his study on solid, productive, well-adjusted adults to find what kind of parents they had had. He was surprised to discover that none of their parents were out of the ordinary. These moms and dads loved their kids and disciplined them, but made their share of mistakes. Sometimes they were distracted and selfish, sometimes too harsh or too lenient. But, when they failed, they recognized it and apologized to their children and moved on. Dr. Cox writes "And their kids were cool adults!"

Winnicott was impressed enough by his discoveries to give these parents a name:  "Good Enough Parents." They were not perfect nor ideal, nor even great. But they were Good Enough.

No one can be perfect. That's the big news. But no one has to be. That's even bigger. A friend of Cox describes parenting as like rowing a boat with five holes in the bottom. With only two hands and two feet, you're going to leave some hole uncovered no matter how hard you try.

I stood at the funeral of my 88-year-old father-in-law a few days ago and told the family, "I want to say to you what I have found myself telling others through forty years of ministry. As you look back on your father's life, you can think of many things he did right. And, with a little thought, you can probably identify some areas where he dropped the ball. He was human and made his share of mistakes. Give thanks to God for the times he got it right. Forgive him for the times he didn't. Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.'  Let's cut each other some slack and not demand perfection."

More than anything else, the emotion which psychologist John Cox sees in today's mothers is anxiety over their role as parents. He concludes, "Maybe the nicest Mother's Day gift we can give them is the freedom to not be perfect-just Good Enough."

But doesn't God expect perfection from us? Did not Jesus say, "Be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect?" (Matt. 5:48). Yes, He said that. God's standard is perfection. But He knows not to expect it from us, not in this lifetime. That's the reason, for example, that the chapter in the Old Testament which gives us the Ten Commandments also presents plans for an altar (Ex. 20). God knows we will not be able to keep His commandments perfectly, and that we will be needing forgiveness to enable us to get back up and try again. So, in His kindness, He revealed His perfect standard of righteousness and then gave us an altar to go to for forgiveness, for not living up to it.

The Lord Jesus Christ is God's perfect Standard. His cross is the Perfect Altar.

We have the best of both worlds in our incredible Savior.

God is under no illusions about you and me. "He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." (Ps. 103:14) At no time in human history has God ever been shocked by human behavior. Grieved, no doubt, but not surprised. He knows us. He loves us as we are.

But He loves us enough not to leave us that way. It's all about Grace.

"A Matter of Fax" is a ministry of First Baptist Church, Kenner, Louisiana,

pastored by Joe McKeever

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